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In honor of Mildred Jeter Loving

Before I go on with this post, a quick quiz:  In what year did the U.S. Supreme Court declare that laws banning interracial marriage were unconstitutional?  [The answer is at the end of the post.  For extra credit: What was the first state to recognize that antimiscegenation laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?  When?]

I just heard of the death of Mildred Jeter Loving.  Mildred Jeter was an African-American woman living in Northern Virginia.  She met, and fell in love with, Richard Loving, a White man from the same town; the Washington Post describes them as “childhood sweethearts”.  They married in Washington, DC, when she was 17 and he was 23.  They moved back to the town in Virginia, and were arrested for violating the laws banning interracial marriage or cohabitation as man and wife.  They pleaded guilty to the charge, and were sentenced to one year in prison.

However, the judge suspended the sentence for 25 years on the condition that the Lovings leave the state and not return for 25 years.  They moved to Washington, DC.  There, they filed suit to have their convictions overturned.  And this suit eventually ended up at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court ruled unanimously that the antimiscegenation laws of Virginia were unconstitutional, and, as a Supreme Court case, this decision applied to all states.  [Here’s the answer to the quiz: June 12, 1967.  Consequently, some interracial couples celebrate June 12 as Loving Day.].

 In summarizing the decision of the Court, Chief Justice Earl Warren writes:

The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men. Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival. […] To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

Here a link to the whole opinion, which, though a bit long, goes into the whole logic of the case.  In particular, it refutes the claim of the Commonwealth of Virginia that, since the punishment was applied equally to citizens of both races, that the law was not discriminatory.

Here’s the obituary from the Washington Post, and another article of appreciation from the same paper.

Finally, the answer to the extra credit question: California was the first to make that ruling, in 1948.

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